The contemporary lingo surrounding foods is getting hard to keep up with. Every time you go to the supermarket, you’re bombarded with different seals, quality-certifications, and labels whose meanings you don’t have the slightest idea of. Pick up any packaged food, and you’ll see that it is stamped and stickered with a dozen seals. You’re never sure if these labels actually stand for something or are a marketing gimmick. All of this makes grocery shopping irritating, to say the least.
The latest trend in the food industry is non-GMO. From crackers to fruits to breads, everything is stamped with the elusive label of a butterfly. Though most of us have seen the label somewhere or the other, some still don’t understand the significance of it. Let’s break it down.
What is GMO and Non-GMO?
GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organisms. I think most of us are aware that the majority of the food crops grown today are genetically modified in some way or the other. Genetic modification or genetic engineering is the technique through which scientists alter one or multiple genes from the DNA of our food. This creates combinations of plant, animal, bacterial and virus genes that don’t occur in nature or through traditional crossbreeding methods. It became common practice to modify plants and crops, and almost everything we eat is in some way genetically modified. Only recently have people started to question the risks of genetic altering on human health and the environment, which we’ll discuss in detail further on.
Some of the genetically modified crops that the US government allows to be grown on its soil include a variety of crops that are regular food staples in homes everywhere, like corn, soybeans, cotton, zucchinis, alfalfas, sugar beets and papayas.
Scientists, consumers, and environmental groups have cited many health and environmental hazards with foods containing GMOs. To counter the unethical practice of genetic modification of our foods, several people came on board. To put an end to it, they came up with non-GMO foods, which are promised to be made from non-genetically modified ingredients, and are claimed to have greater benefits both on our health and the environment. Non-GMO meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products simply mean that the animals that these came from were not fed genetically engineered feedstock.
The non-GMO movement took off pretty well, with sales of food products containing the non-GMO seal almost doubling over the span of one year. Everybody flocked to the idea of eating natural, unmodified food that is beneficial to our health and does not threaten the sustainability of our planet.
At the forefront, fighting to create awareness about GMOs and trying to make non-GMO food options available to the average consumer is the primary aim of the non-GMO movement. A non-profit organization, dedicated to creating and sustaining a non-GMO food supply, The Non-GMO Project is the largest third-party verifier of non-GMO foods and production techniques.
The label Non-GMO Project Verified is the most trusted label in the US and is the market leader for efforts on GMO avoidance. They adopted a symbol of a monarch butterfly perched on a leaf stalk as their logo and try to convince consumers to only buy Non-GMO Project Verified products.
Why Are Foods Genetically Modified?
The most common reasoning given for genetic modification of food crops is that the altering of the genes makes food healthier and tastier. By eliminating gene structures that can cause rot or ailments in the food and giving them a better structure that can protect them against these things.
Genetically modified crops in agriculture provide resistance to certain pests, diseases, environmental conditions, spoilage or chemical treatments (e.g. resistance to an herbicide). It was usually done to high-demand crops, so as to meet the food supply.
Genetic modification has been happening since the past couple of decades. Most of our food supply is modified. But is it safe? Scientists have identified a number of potential dangers of using GMOs
The insertion of foreign genes into the DNA is completely random. Scientists cannot yet control where the gene will attach itself and how it will change the food crop. Such blind intervention can disrupt the normal functioning of the present genes and can create toxins, allergens, and mutations that can prove harmful to humans in the long run.
The need for use of GMOs in food crops arose because of a theory called Central Dogma. The theory states that only one protein is expressed from one gene. This formed the entire basis of genetic engineering. The theory has since then been debunked. Scientists have admitted that DNA functions in far more complicated ways that we have understood so far.
Not an Alternative to Plant Breeding
Some people argue that GMOs are simply a more modern type of traditional plant breeding, where different species of the same or similar plants or crops are combined to make better versions of the same food. This is not true. A genetic modification is entirely different and can cause great harm if we’re not careful. In making GMOs, scientists break down the natural barriers of the food crop to allow transfer of genes from bacteria and animal, exposing them to pathogens and diseases.
Despite this, genetic modification is still widely practiced, used, and even sanctioned by governments.
Granted that they are only allowed for staple crops that are in great demand like canola, soybean, and others, these crops form the basis for so many of our regular household food, and we’re consuming way more GMOs in every meal than we anticipated.
Pros of Switching to a Non-GMO Diet
People who have been following the non-GMO movement and have adapted the lifestyle of consuming only non-GMO foods in their diet are full of praises for it. They have observed drastic changes in their moods, health, and lifestyle after turning to an entirely non-GMO diet.
Though the effects of a completely non-GMO diet are not as widely researched, proponents of the movements say it turned their lives around. A survey conducted by Institute of Responsible Technology (IRT) that out of 3256 participants, the majority of respondents reported feeling and observing very positive changes in their lives.
Some of the changes that were reported were: better digestive health, fatigue, obesity, food allergies, insomnia, and diabetes. 85% people reported mild improvements to a complete recovery from digestive problems that they suffered from pre-non-GMO. 60.4% people also reported feeling less lethargic and fatigued, while 54.6% people said it helped them lose weight and combat obesity.
These numbers are phenomenal. There should be more research into this subject and more effort should be put into uncovering the many health benefits of going on a completely GMO-free diet.
Organic vs. Non-GMO
Many people mistake non-GMO foods to mean organic food. They’re either confused about the differences between the two terms or aren’t aware that they aren’t alternate terms for each other.
Even for someone who knows the individual concepts behind the two, it can get extremely hard to separate one from the other. Both are touted to be healthier than commercially-made foods, and a quick Google search of both of them turn up amazing reviews from people who have adopted them into their routines.
So what is the difference between the two? Which one is better?
A lot of people use the terms ‘non-GMO’ and ‘organic’ interchangeably. While there are similarities, there are fundamental distinctions between the two of them.
While all organic food can be termed as non-GMO, not all non-GMO foods are organic. Organic is a far wider, all-embracing topic, which deals extensively with the production methods, ingredients, animal welfare and environmental effects of the food product, while non-GMO only intends to check the food products to ascertain if there are any non-GMO ingredients.
Organic food has to be GMO-free, as ordered by the USDA, but non-GMO products don’t necessarily have to be organic. Organic foods are grown with a high regard to not deplete and ruin the soil, without any synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, and without administering any growth hormones. In case of meat and dairy, it means that the animal was kept in safe and hygienic conditions, was not fed hormones, and was taken care of properly. Organic foods take a lot into account before being branded as such.
The Non-GMO Project’s label, however, only means that the product has gone through the project’s lengthy verification process, where they’ve ascertained that the product contains less than 0.9% of genetically modified ingredients, and that high-risk ingredients are properly regulated. Organic products are generally more expensive than non-GMO branded foods too, because of the variety of issues that they take into account.
As to whether organic foods are more nutritious or non-GMO, scientists have reached mixed conclusions and are torn between which one is healthier. Both offer about much the same nutritional benefits and should be adopted by people who are looking to live healthier lives and reduce their carbon footprint.
How Can I Avoid GMO Products?
Since much of the commonly available foods in grocery stores and superstores are GMOs, how do you even begin your journey of non-GMO foods? It is difficult to find non-GMO alternatives to regular ingredients used in our foods, not to mention they’re more expensive too. But switch you must; your body will thank you later.
Here are a few things you can do to make your journey and transition into the non-GMO life easier and more convenient.
Avoid processed foods like the plague
Nearly 70% of processed food contains ingredients from corn, soy, canola, sugar beets, and cotton. Sugary drinks, juices, and candies derive most of their sugar from genetically engineered sugar beets. Not only will you reduce your sugar intake this way, but the sugar you will be consuming will also not be as harmful.
Look for Non-GMO Project verified products
Look for the butterfly seal of approval from the Non-GMO Project. Only buy products that carry the seal. The Non-GMO Project goes through a lengthy process to ensure that the products are GMO-free and you can trust that seal.
One of the easiest ways to go GMO-free is to start buying organic produce. All organic food is, by law, GMO-free. There are small, local shops that stock entirely organic products so you won’t have to sift and check through aisles specifically for non-GMO products.
Non-GMO Oils at Maverik Oils
Maverick Oils places huge importance on the quality of its products, and makes efforts to ensure that the products it offers are of the highest health standard and contribute as little as possible to environmental problems. For this reason, we stock non-GMO alternatives of a bunch of oils that are mostly genetically engineered in the market. Our non-GMO product list includes soybean oil, canola oil, and palm oil among several others.
You don’t have to look any further than Maverik Oils the next time you’re having trouble finding non-GMO oils in your nearby stores. We also offer bulk buying, if you intend to start using non-GMO oils for your food businesses, restaurants, and bakeries.